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On the back of the remote and near the bottom is the battery compartment, whose large cover also forms part of the lower finger groove. Compared to the SST-768, I found the SST-659’s cover to be much easier to accidentally remove – little pressure is required to release the snap. In addition, the batteries tend to rattle slightly when using the remote. The compartment lid does have foam pieces intended to secure the batteries, but the foam is not thick enough to actually press down on the batteries. Of the two squares, less than half of one piece and a quarter of the other actually come into contact with the batteries – and the foam has so little substance that it compresses without resistance and stays compressed. Still, this is an extremely minor issue that is easily corrected with your own foam.
Right on the bottom of the remote is a small infrared learning eye, used to capture new commands from factory original remote controls. The Mini-USB computer communications port is located at the top, wedged between three infrared emitters. The emitters are concealed by a transparent tinted plastic shield. One is aimed ahead and slightly to the left, one ahead and slightly to the right, while the third angles downwards. Previous Harmony remotes have only had two emitters, one pointing straight ahead and another downwards, so it will be interesting to see how well this new arrangement works. Also on the top, between the [Off] and [Help] buttons, is a command transmission LED that illuminates whenever a signal is sent.
Although relatively light in weight, the SST-659 seems adequately built. Its two case halves fit together well, with no sharp or rough edges. A total of four screws can be seen along the spine of the remote, and while overall resistance to lateral twisting is good, it’s possible to bend the top half more than the rest. This is likely due to a combination of the LCD screen, the silver insert around the screen, and the plastic IR shield at the top. Dropping a $200 remote control is never a good idea, but accidents do happen and the SST-659 may not be as durable as some.
With the change to backlit keys, Intrigue Technologies has designed a new manufacturing process for their buttons – one that doesn’t feel quite as good. The only keys that offer any sense that they have been successfully pressed are the volume and channel toggles. All other buttons are surprisingly stiff yet mushy, lacking real tactile feedback. Keys extend further above the case than on the SST-768 and, unless the smaller ones are pressed exactly square, they have the tendency to feel like they are bending over rather than lowering. I do like the chic new super-glossy finish that graces all keys except the six around the display and the [Glow] button, but the overall feel isn’t as pleasant as many other remotes, including past Harmony models.
The Internet or bust!
Many advanced remote controls offer computer-aided programming – but with the Harmony it’s not just an option, it’s an absolute requirement! What’s more, configuring the Harmony also requires an active Internet connection. That’s because all of the actual programming is done on Intrigue’s servers over the web – the only items required on your computer are simple communications programs for transferring configurations and learning infrared codes. Because of the limited need for platform-dependent software, the SST-659 can be used on both Microsoft Windows 98SE or higher systems and Mac OSX.